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Lost Boys, IWU to raise money for Sudanese victims
A group of students who attend the Pongborong Primary School, which was founded and is managed by the Lost Boys who have resettled in the United States, pose for a picture. (For the Pantagraph)

BLOOMINGTON - When Peter Bul was just 7, he and his mother fled as soldiers burned their Sudanese village, killing everyone in their way.

After that 1988 escape, Peter and 50 others began a three-month walk to Ethiopia. But his mother returned to search for her husband and the couple's other five children. To this day, Peter Bul hasn't seen his family.

Instead, the youngster began a 13-year journey across four nations, and became one of an estimated 12,000 other Lost Boys - Sudanese youth victimized and displaced during the African nation's 20-year civil war.

"We helped tell our story. And in 2005, a peace accord between the north and south was signed. So, we can start to help that area rebuild," said Bul, now 25 and living in Chicago.

On Saturday, he'll visit Bloomington with a dozen other Lost Boys as they join Illinois Wesleyan University students raising money for southern Sudanese schoolchildren.

The Pro Putt Family Fun Center miniature golf fund-raiser is a family-friendly event open to the public, and allows people to meet Bul and his countrymen in an informal setting, said Brandi Reissenweber, an IWU professor helping organize the event.

"It's a chance for people to learn about the world around them, and at the same time give some money to this project," she said.

Bul visited Reissenweber's literature class last fall. Some IWU students touched by his personal story of survival formed the IWU Committee to Rebuild Southern Sudan.

The fund-raiser aims to collect money for Bul's Ayual Community Development Association, which has started a school in his native region of Sudan populated mainly by members of the Dinka tribe.

Almost 500 children are enrolled at the newly built Pongborong Primary School, the first of its kind in southern Sudan. It needs school supplies and money to staff the building, said Bul.

The school lacks the most basic school supplies, and the all-volunteer teaching staff needs training and curriculum materials. Besides money for supplies, money is needed to develop a scholarship program so promising Pongborong students can continue studies at the high school level.

The Ayual community group also is raising money to build a healthcare facility to serve about 40,000 people in the area.

Bul sees education as the key to stopping the cycle of violence that has plagued the region. And he sees the Lost Boys who are U.S. immigrants as the heralds of that message.

"Just think: There are 4,000 of us here. If we could each help educate 1,000 children back home - what a difference that would make," he said.

"Before I was displaced, I didn't go to school. I looked after the cattle for my father," said Bul, who first learned his ABCs as a 12-year-old living in a Kenyan Red Cross camp.

Since arriving in America, Bul's earned a GED certificate, and now is a student at Harry Truman College.

The life Bul once knew is an ocean and continent away. The boys struggled to survive on their own. Many perished on walks to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, and on to Kenya. Others died of hunger and disease during the ordeal, said Bul.

But some, like him, survived.

"Our main objective now is to testify about the genocide that's been going on for the last 20 years - to demonstrate and put pressure on leaders to stop it from happening again, especially like were seeing in Darfur right now," said Bul.

GO!

What: Miniature golf-a-thon and silent auction for children of Sudan.

Details: Several "lost boys" of Sudan, who survived the terror of being orphaned refugees in Sudan's 20-year civil war will attend. The Illinois Wesleyan University Committee to Rebuild Southern Sudan is cosponsoring the event with a Sudanese community group.

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pro Putt Family Fun Center, 1716 R.T. Dunn Drive, Bloomington (near the Veterans and U.S. 51 junction)

Cost: $10 for individuals; $45 for a group of five.

Registration: In advance, call (309) 556-3333; day of event, pay fee at Pro Putt.

Donations: Any donations may be sent to the IWU English Department, P.O. Box 2900, Bloomington, IL 61702, payable to "Ayual Community Development Association."

SOURCES: Brandi Reissenweber, IWU; IWU communications office;

Compiled by Michele Steinbacher

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